Thursday, 20 February 2020

Racal Electronics, Seaton, Devon - Part One

Racal Electronics plc was once the third-largest electronics firm in Britain, offering products including voice and data recorders, point of sale  terminals, laboratory instruments and military electronics, including radio and radar. At its height, it operated throughout 110 countries world-wide and employed over 30,000 people. 

The Seaton factory manufactured communications equipment, mainly for the MOD, and in 1999 the communications subsidiary of the company was sold to an American company, which was subsequently moved to the USA. It was closed in the year 2000, resulting in the loss of 109 jobs and was eventually demolished in June 2008.

This was my first 'official' urban explore. I'd explored lots of derelict and abandoned places when young, and the odd few as an adult, but in 2006 I read a fiction novel about urbexers - called 'Creepers', if I remember correctly - and there were some website addresses at the back of the book of people exploring abandoned buildings. I looked them up and realising this is something I've done, and would like to get properly involved in, I searched for and joined the forum called Derelict Places in early January 2007. Actually, I found and joined another forum just before that, in late 2006, but was unceremoniously banned without being given any reason along with a whole load of other members. But we won't talk about that one! ;)

Having thought about local places to visit I remembered that Racals had been closed and left empty, so decided to have a meander down there to have a look. A gorgeous low sunlight on an early January afternoon, 2007.

A bit of heartfelt graffiti (above photo on the left) of someone's thoughts about the factory being moved to the US.

The site was fenced all around but, by total chance, part of the fence was open so I was able to get on site and take some photos from inside. 

Then much to my surprise, I found an open door which allowed me the opportunity to take a few interior photos just inside the building. I heard some men talking upstairs so I quickly took these few photos, and on hearing footsteps coming down the stairs I decided not to outstay my welcome, and exited post haste! 

Dripping water splashed down from the hole in the ceiling onto the stairs, but sadly I couldn't capture it on the photos. 

As I hurried outside I heard someone shout. My heart nearly stopped, lol, but then I heard my name called by one of the blokes who I happened to know. They were almost finished doing some clean-up work but I still had some time to take a few more photos outside before they locked up the gate. It was mid afternoon by then and getting towards sunset.

Apart from the front offices and the workshops along the road side, this part of the building along the riverside, above, is the erstwhile factory floor (seen from the door in the first interior photos above). The shelter, below, was the bus stop. More photos of both will be coming up in the next post, from a further visit made at Easter time.

This explore is one that stayed with me for a very long time; having a big grin on my face for at least a week afterwards. My first factory explore, the adrenalin of going alone and getting onto the site - which I didn't expect - plus the serendipity of actually getting inside the factory, albeit briefly, made it very special for me.

I was intending to put both visits in part one, with the demolition and remains photos in part two but there are a lot of photos to get through, so I've decided to split it into three or four parts. So, the second visit will be coming up next. :)

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Pigeon Lofts, Seaton, Devon

Apart from the Updates post and the Navigation Mine, which was the last part of the South Wales explore articles started in November, I've decided to kick-start the year with something fun and quirkily different. This one isn't on my website, as I didn't intend to do anything with it at the time, but I've since got some more photos and information, so here goes...

In early Spring 2007 I took some outside photos of Racals Electronics and decided to investigate a tiny lane nearby. It led down to these huts. I didn't know what they were for at first until I heard a soft cooing coming from inside, when I realised they were pigeon lofts. I was quite excited as I'd never seen any before, thinking that pigeon lofts were usually in actual lofts...which many are...but doing a google produced images of many different kinds, including some like these.

At one time there used to be a lot of domestic pigeons flying around the buildings first thing in the morning where I live. It was quite a sight to see them fly past the windows on their circular journey round. Not any more, although there's the lovely mournful song of collared doves coming from nearby trees. Domestic pigeons were bred from the domesticated descendants of the rock dove and are quite distinct from the smaller, pretty collared doves and wood pigeons, which are now more commonly seen in the trees of our parks and gardens.

Pigeon breeders are commonly referred to as pigeon fanciers, choosing from hundreds of breeds which have been cultivated from their common ancestor, mainly for three specific purposes; Flying/sporting, trained for racing and homing: Fancy, for shows & competitions, and: Utility, bred for their meat and for breeding stock.

Pigeon lofts come in all shapes, sizes and designs, as attested by the amount I saw on Google images, and the few different types that I saw here. I haven't been able to discover anything about these lofts at all. They may have belonged to just one person or a few different fanciers sharing the site, the lofts ranging from quite old to quite new looking.

Kept mostly for food, especially in the winter when other fresh meat wasn't so available, pigeons have been domesticated for around 10,000 years. It's thought that the Romans introduced pigeons to England, housed in columbaria - small buildings containing pigeonholes for nests - from the Latin for columba meaning 'dove' or 'pigeon'.

More commonly called Dovecots or Dovecotes - Doocots in Scotland - it is either a free-standing small building, such as the round one at Avebury in Wiltshire (shown above and the interior below), or built into the fabric of a house or outer building, such as a barn.

Norman castles of the 12th century were the earliest known examples of pigeon keeping in buildings, and many wealthy landowners since have also used them. An example is at Shute Manor in Devon, seen below; the square holes in the wall are situated above the kitchen door as a convenience for cooking.

I heard a funny story about the Lord of the Manor whilst on a guided tour at Shute Manor. Apparently he was so fed up with having pigeon poo squirted on him whenever he used that entrance that he had pieces of stone inserted into the holes to stop the pigeons from nesting in them. :)

Back to our Seaton lofts, alongside was this path with low walls either side. A couple of apple trees stood near the end and it was such a peaceful place that I sat on the wall for a while and had a coffee from the flask I'd brought with me. The cherry on the icing was seeing two hares leaping and chasing around in the field next door. Absolute magic! 

Having decided to do something with the photos after all, I had a walk down there a couple of years ago to see what had happened to the lofts since the area was taken over for so-called regeneration - don't get me started, lol - and found that almost everything was gone.

Some brick and concrete rubble may have come from the demolished wall and hard standing, although there's only this small amount and it's on the small lane above the path to the pigeon lofts. The photo below shows the lofts path entrance cordoned off with fencing. Some trees are there but no sign of anything else. Such a shame, especially as nothing's been done with that part of the land yet.

Even so, it's lovely to have this small reminder of finding these pigeon lofts and enjoying my coffee break in the early Spring sunshine, the apple trees just coming into blossom and the sight of those mad march hares. Magic indeed! :) 



Thursday, 23 January 2020

Belated Happy New Year & Updates

A very happy, albeit very late, new year to everyone, and I hope you all had a lovely Christmas. :) This is just a short post with some updates of what happened last year, where I'm at now, and what's coming up.

Last year was a really difficult year. Starting with a flooded kitchen with water pouring through the ceiling from a burst pipe between the floors of my flat and the flat above, it then went on from there in a similar vein. Had the ceiling redecorated after the pipe was mended and an asbestos check before that. Lots of dental, doctor, nurse and hospital appointments throughout the year, including a three day stay in hospital having blood transfusions for severe anaemia, plus several months of work done on the apartment blocks - new doors and an intercom system installed, decorating, new flooring, new lights, including Colditz-style floodlights outside, and which also included having to empty our own walk-in storerooms in the corridors (which took me three days to do). Also, five different surveys on my flat; another asbestos survey, a check on the water pipes and taps for Legionaires disease, a check on all the radiators and bathroom boiler, and a check to see how the floodlights impact on my windows and why it's like having car headlights in my bedroom all night, lol.

There wasn't a week without at least one appointment - sometimes two or three - with a lot of travelling to two different hospitals, and by the end of November I was getting the symptoms of being severely stressed out. I thought I had a week coming up with nothing earmarked but then three more appointments came in, so I said 'enough is enough' and cancelled them all. That next week I did nothing but work on my blog (the Beer Battery and  South Wales Urbex weekend posts) then had December to rest up, do lots of walks for errands, catch up on a lot of odd jobs and prepare for Christmas. It was bliss! :)

Anyway, because of the year I had, I didn't take any photos apart from a few of my balcony garden and some indoor stuff...some of which I only used my little Fujifilm digital camera for. I haven't even finished the film in my proper camera! Something I did do though, was to rescan some of my photos (notably the Beer Battery, three WW2 airfields, the Stoke-on-Trent explores and a few others) plus scan some old ones I hadn't done before...and it's some of those that I've posted here, from 2010. We haven't had any snow yet this year, just a couple of frosty mornings so far, lots of rain, fog and damp interspersed with some lovely sunny days.

This year I had a new boiler installed and I'm still catching up with lots of jobs, but apart from that I've really enjoyed this winter so far. But I really need to get out and take some photos. Lots of ideas on that.

So far on my blog, I'm well over halfway through rewriting and posting my website articles, with 152 posts published and another 13 in draft. That includes just one new page not on the website, and I'll be adding some more of those this year...and a good way through most of the website pages, if not all. I also want to get the contents page up and running and I've got some ideas for new recurrent posts, including folklore and book recommendations connected with my blog/website topics. Weather Lore is something that's been on the back burner for a while, so I'm aiming to get the first seasonal section up & running soon. And I've got a growing list of places and things to visit and photograph.

One brilliant thing that came out of last year is that, instead of having the severe arthritis I thought I had, it was the severe anaemia causing the excrutiating difficulty in walking, so I'm now walking better than I have done for years. And another health problem is gradually getting better so I should be out and about with my camera again soon. Onwards and upwards, lol.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Navigation Colliery, Crumlin, South Wales

The Power House & Pumping House.
Continuing the posts about the February 2008 urban exploration meet-up in South Wales (see previous five posts for the other sites), it was the last explore of the weekend and, despite cold and fatigue, was another excellent place to see and take photos of.

The Power House & Pumping House.
The colliery was started in 1907 with the sinking of two shafts, and reached completion in 1911. In 1935, 86 men were employed on the surface and 358 men underground. The seams worked at that time were Meadow Vein, Black Vein, Elled, Big Vein and the Three-Quarter. Unfortunately, the Black Vein Straight North District hit an underground lake in 1937. This meant that the shafts were eventually half submerged, and the pit bottom had to be permanently raised by 39 metres. By the 1960's widespread pit closures also affected the Navigation Colliery, and its gates were finally closed in September 1967.

The Power House & Pumping House.
Considered to be of outstanding industrial architecture, the buildings are Grade II & Grade II* listed, comprising Power House & Pumping House, North & South Winding Engine Houses, Chimney, Fan Drift & Fan House, Lamp Room, Bath House, Workshop & Stores, Offices, Electrical Outbuilding and Powder Store. The Colliery was a model show-pit of the time with high quality buildings and state-of-the-art machinery; one of the first to be built in brick rather than the usual local stone with brick dressings

Everything was still lying dormant at the time of my visit but in more recent years the site has been maintained by a team of volunteers called 'The Friends of The Navigation', with the aim of restoring the site and buildings and bringing them back into use.

The Power House & Pumping House with North Winding Engine House to the left.

Me being me, I snuck off on my own and went along the other side the power house, taking photos along the way. This is the only building on the ground level whilst the rest are situated on the terrace above a revetment wall let into the hillside. The revetment wall can be seen on the left of the photos above and below.

Grade II listed, the building is long, rectangular and single-storey, built with high quality engineering bricks in red & yellow, the latter making a grid pattern.

Now roofless, once of Welsh slate, the overhanging eaves are still extant. A range of 12 delightful long round-arched openings (two of which are doorways) comprising multipaned glass in metal frames. Three gables contain roundel windows.

And from the other side, below.

The power house, below, with the north winding engine house behind it on the terrace.

The North Winding Engine House standing on the revetment wall, below. A Grade II* small one-storey building, in the same style as the Power House

On the north terrace.

Overlooking the power house (above), showing its lack of roof. The north terrace buildings (below) include the workshops & stores on the right with the north winding engine house on the left. The colliery chimney is Grade II* listed, as is the winding engine house; the workshops are Grade II.

The south terrace was blocked off by a fence (above left). I managed to take a photo through a gap (above right) showing the next building on the south terrace, which is the fan drift with the fan house behind that.

Workshops & Stores.
Built in the same style as most of the other buildings in high quality red and yellow engineering brick, with long round-arched openings now blocked halfway up, it's a long narrow building subdivided into stores and carpentry shops, smiths and fitters.  

Workshops & Stores.
I'm not sure where these photos fit in, below, but if memory serves me they were of a much smaller building, therefore possibly either the Electrical Outbuilding or the Powder Store.

And some graffiti. I have an ambivalence about it because I hate vandalism, especially on historic buildings, but appreciating the artwork when well done. I don't usually take photos of grafs but the one below looked wonderful against the metal and brickwork...albeit a bit out of focus. I don't know whether it was because I was shaking from the cold and/or exhaustion, or the cold was affecting my camera, but many of my photos weren't very good from this site, apart from a few lucky ones.

The south terrace (below) showing the fan house on the revetment wall. Everyone else went up to take photos but I'm afraid I'd lost my energy and motivation by then and didn't feel up to getting up there.
Fan House on the revetment wall.
Fan House on the revetment wall.
I did manage to take some more photos though; the two above and one of the attractive River Ebbw running beneath the colliery lane.

At long last the others came back down (it was cold!) and we went off to a nearby cafe for hot drinks. Bliss! :)

Our group this weekend consisted of  -

Sheep (our host)
King Al
Smiley Sal
Crash Overdrive
and me, FoxyLady

The final photo is of Smiley Sal hurrying to catch up with the others. I always seem to catch her when she's running! lol.

Interestingly, it just goes to show the difference in temperature between Wales and East Devon as it didn't get above minus 7°F in Newport but was so mild in Seaton that the next day I was out in just jeans and a thin jumper. Happy days! :)